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M K Bhadrakumar | 

The ‘Ministerial Trilateral’ between the US, Japan, and India on the sidelines of the UNGA in New York on Monday turned out to be a ‘photo-op’. There was no joint statement. Delhi alone issued a press release. At the media appearance in New York by US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, no one seemed interested in the ‘Ministerial Trilateral’.

India has been an influential player on the world stage with a metropolitan outlook even in its first decade of independence as it emerged out of centuries of colonial rule

Delhi’s press release says that “views… were exchanged” on maritime security, connectivity and proliferation issues. Surprisingly, there was no reference to the vital topics of Afghanistan, Myanmar, terrorism – or, Doklam standoff. It doesn’t mention China’s Belt and Road Initiative or the South China Sea – leave alone the Asia-Africa Growth Corridor.

Read more: China hopeful that India has learned its lessons from Doklam

There is a general statement of the principles of ‘freedom of navigation, respect for international law and peaceful resolution of disputes’ and ‘connectivity’, which, presumably, refers to China. But Beijing also subscribes to high-flown principles.

Curiously, EAM Sushma Swaraj made a ‘stand-alone’ remark on North Korea’s ‘proliferation linkages’ being a top priority. Perhaps, the urge to take an indirect swipe at Pakistan was irresistible. But North Korea is an existential issue for Washington and Tokyo and they don’t waste time indulging in propaganda.

Beijing will only follow a foreign policy that prioritizes peace and stability conducive to its growth and continued development as a middle-income country

It is not difficult to comprehend why the US and Japan are unwilling to join hands with India to berate China at this juncture when they heavily count on Beijing’s help to handle the dangerous situation, which does not lend itself to resolution and is destined to mold the geopolitics of Northeast Asia for the foreseeable future. In fact, on Monday US President Donald Trump had yet another phone conversation with Chinese President Xi regarding North Korea.

Read more: India’s China war circa 2017?

Why is the Modi government following such a moronic approach in China policies? China is not viewing India as its ‘rival’. The plain truth is that India has to grow at the annual rate of 29 percent if it is to ‘catch up’ with China. The ‘race’ — if there ever was one — is over. The Chinese know it too, as the following observation by a top economist and academic suggests,

  • Based on the exchange rate, China’s GDP in 2016 was $11.2 trillion, 4.87 times more than India’s $2.3 trillion. With this size, even if China’s GDP grows at only 6 percent annually over the next 10 years, India would need to have average annual GDP growth of 29 percent to catch up. In terms of per capita GDP, China’s figure in 2016 was $8,113, while India’s was $1,723. In other words, to catch up with China, India still has a long way to go.

So, why should China agonize over India’s ‘rise’? Even longstanding hardliners in India reluctantly concede today that China’s preoccupation is with ‘China Dream’ (the rise of that country as a prosperous society by 2049 when China’s communist revolution celebrates its centenary), which guarantees that Beijing will only follow a foreign policy that prioritizes peace and stability conducive to its growth and continued development as a middle-income country. The former National Security Advisor MK Narayanan wrote recently:

For the present, avoidance of a conflict will remain the principal objective…, with China no doubt looking for an expansion of opportunities for trade (with India). The key watchwords would, hence, be peace and tranquility… China is anxious to maintain peace on its border with India… peace and tranquility have thus become an imperative necessity (for China).

Read more: India looks to woo adamant China for entry into NSG: Will…

Well, well, well – “imperative necessity”. Isn’t that a pretty strong expression coming from a veteran strategist? The point is, today’s situation ought to work to India’s advantage if it is smart enough to generate synergy out of China’s growth. Yet, it increasingly looks as if India is desperately on the lookout for opportunities to create “suspicions” (MK Narayanan) in the Chinese mind. India is copying Pakistan’s petulant mindset vis-à-vis India – make a nuisance of itself lest it got ignored altogether and left behind as ‘loser’ while the caravan moved on.

Why is the Modi government following such a moronic approach in China policies? China is not viewing India as its ‘rival’. The plain truth is that India has to grow at the annual rate of 29 percent if it is to ‘catch up’ with China

But India has been an influential player on the world stage with a metropolitan outlook even in its first decade of independence as it emerged out of centuries of colonial rule. Seven decades down the line, why should India retreat into a mofussil outlook and define its identity by juxtaposing as China’s ‘rival’? India needs a positive diplomatic agenda instead of quixotically tilting at the windmill.

PM Modi should not waste time chasing chimera such as the Asia-Africa Growth Corridor, et al. He should order his aides to draft for consideration an ‘India Dream’ to be realized by the year 2047 when our beloved country’s centenary celebrations will arrive – two years ahead of Xi’s ‘China Dream’.

M. K. Bhadrakumar has served as a career diplomat in the Indian Foreign Service for over 29 years, with postings as India’s ambassador to Uzbekistan (1995-1998) and to Turkey (1998-2001). He writes extensively in Indian newspapers, Asia Times and the “Indian Punchline”. This piece was first published in Indian Punchline. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Global Village Space’s editorial policy.

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